In church governance, a diocese or bishopric is the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a
bishop A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Moravian Chur ...


In the later organization of the
Roman Empire
Roman Empire
, the increasingly subdivided
provinces A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are gene ...
were administratively associated in a larger unit, the
diocese In Ecclesiastical polity, church governance, a diocese or bishopric is the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop. History In the later organization of the Roman Empire, the increasingly subdivided Roman province, prov ...
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...
''dioecesis'', from the
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of 2018; Athens is ...
term διοίκησις, meaning "administration").
Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Major religious groups, world's la ...
was given legal status in 313 with the
Edict of Milan The Edict of Milan ( la, Edictum Mediolanense, , ''Diatagma tōn Mediolanōn'') was the February AD 313 agreement to treat Christians benevolently within the Roman Empire.Frend, W. H. C. ''The Early Church'' SPCK 1965, p. 137 Western Roman Emperor ...
. Churches began to organize themselves into dioceses based on the civil dioceses, not on the larger regional imperial districts. These dioceses were often smaller than the
provinces A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are gene ...
. Christianity was declared the Empire's official religion by Theodosius I in 380.
Constantine I Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Constantinus; ; 27 February 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was a Roman emperor from 306 to 337. Born in Naissus, Dacia Mediterranea (now Niš, Serbia), he was the son of Constantius Chlor ...
in 318 gave litigants the right to have court cases transferred from the civil courts to the bishops. This situation must have hardly survived Julian, 361–363. Episcopal courts are not heard of again in the East until 398 and in the West in 408. The quality of these courts were low, and not above suspicion as the Bishop of
Alexandria Troas Alexandria Troas ("Alexandria of the Troad"; el, Αλεξάνδρεια Τρωάς; tr, Eski Stambul) is the site of an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiqu ...
found that clergy were making a corrupt profit. Nonetheless, these courts were popular as people could get quick justice without being charged fees. Bishops had no part in the civil administration until the town councils, in decline, lost much authority to a group of 'notables' made up of the richest councilors, powerful and rich persons legally exempted from serving on the councils, retired military, and bishops post-AD 450. As the
Western Empire
Western Empire
collapsed in the 5th century, bishops in Western Europe assumed a larger part of the role of the former Roman governors. A similar, though less pronounced, development occurred in the East, where the Roman administrative apparatus was largely retained by the
Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It surviv ...
. In modern times, many dioceses, though later subdivided, have preserved the boundaries of a long-vanished Roman administrative division. For Gaul, Bruce Eagles has observed that "it has long been an academic commonplace in France that the medieval dioceses, and their constituent '' pagi'', were the direct territorial successors of the Roman '' civitates''." Modern usage of 'diocese' tends to refer to the sphere of a bishop's jurisdiction. This became commonplace during the self-conscious "classicizing" structural evolution of the
Carolingian Empire The Carolingian Empire (800–888) was a large Franks, Frankish-dominated empire in western and central Europe during the early Middle Ages. It was ruled by the Carolingian dynasty, which had ruled as kings of the Franks since 751 and as kings of ...
in the 9th century, but this usage had itself been evolving from the much earlier ''parochia'' ("parish"; Late Latin derived from the Greek παροικία ''paroikia''), dating from the increasingly formalized Christian authority structure in the 4th century.


Dioceses ruled by an archbishop are commonly referred to as archdioceses; most are metropolitan sees, being placed at the head of an ecclesiastical province. A few are suffragan diocese, suffragans of a metropolitan see or are directly subject to the Holy See. The term 'archdiocese' is not found in Canon Law, with the terms "diocese" and "episcopal see" being applicable to the area under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of any bishop. If the title of archbishop is granted on ''personal'' grounds to a diocesan bishop, his diocese does not thereby become an archdiocese.

Catholic Church

, in the Catholic Church there are 2,898 regular dioceses: 1 Holy See, papal see, 9 patriarchates, 4 major archdioceses, 560 metropolitan archdioceses, 76 single archdioceses and 2,248 dioceses in the world. In the Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Pope, the equivalent unit is called an ''eparchy''.

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church calls dioceses episkopies (from the Greek ἐπισκοπή) in the Greek tradition and eparchies (from ἐπαρχία) in the Slavic tradition.

Church of England and Anglican Communion

After the English Reformation, the Church of England retained the existing diocesan structure which remains throughout the Anglican Communion. The one change is that the areas administered under the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York are properly referred to as dioceses, not archdioceses: they are the metropolitan bishops of their respective provinces and bishops of their own diocese and have the position of archbishop. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in its constition uses the specific term "Episcopal Unit" for both dioceses and because of its unique three-''tikanga'' (culture) system. are the tribal-based jurisdictions of Māori people, Māori (bishops) which overlap with the "New Zealand dioceses" (i.e. the geographical jurisdictions of the (European) bishops); these function like dioceses, but are never called so.


Certain Lutheran denominations such as the Church of Sweden do have individual dioceses similar to Roman Catholics. These dioceses and archdioceses are under the government of a bishop (see Archbishop of Uppsala). Other Lutheran bodies and synods that have dioceses and bishops include the Church of Denmark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the Evangelical Church in Germany (partially), and the Church of Norway. From about the 13th century until the German mediatization of 1803, the majority of the bishops of the Holy Roman Empire were prince-bishops, and as such exercised political authority over a principality, their so-called Hochstift, which was distinct, and usually considerably smaller than their diocese, over which they only exercised the usual authority of a bishop. Some American Lutheran church bodies such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have a bishop acting as the head of the synod, but the synod does not have dioceses and archdioceses as the churches listed above. Rather, it is divided into a middle judicatory. The Lutheran Church - International, based in Springfield, Illinois, presently uses a traditional diocesan structure, with four dioceses in North America. Its current president is Archbishop Robert W. Hotes.

Church of God in Christ

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) has dioceses throughout the United States. In the COGIC, most states are divided into at least three or more dioceses that are each led by a bishop (sometimes called a "state bishop"); some states have as many as ten dioceses. These dioceses are called "jurisdictions" within COGIC.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term "bishopric" is used to describe the Mormon bishop himself, together with his two counselors, not the ward (LDS Church), ward or congregation of which a bishop has charge.

Churches that have bishops, but not dioceses

In the United Methodist Church (the United States and some other countries), a bishop is given oversight over a geographical area called an Episcopal area (United Methodist Church), episcopal area. Each episcopal area contains one or more annual conferences, which is how the churches and clergy under the bishop's supervision are organized. Thus, the use of the term "diocese" referring to geography is the most equivalent in the United Methodist Church, whereas each annual conference is part of one episcopal area (though that area may contain more than one conference). The African Methodist Episcopal Church has a similar structure to the United Methodist Church, also using the Episcopal Area. Note that the bishops govern the church as a single bench. In the Methodist Church of Great Britain, British Methodist Church and Methodist Church in Ireland, Irish Methodist Church, the closest equivalent to a diocese is the Methodist Circuit, 'circuit'. Each local church belongs to a circuit, and the circuit is overseen by a superintendent minister who has pastoral charge of all the circuit churches (though in practice he or she delegates such charge to other presbyters who each care for a section of the circuit and chair the local church meetings as deputies of the superintendent). This echoes the practice of the early church where the bishop was supported by a bench of presbyters. Circuits are grouped together to form Districts. All of these, combined with the local membership of the Church, are referred to as the "Connexion". This 18th-century term, endorsed by John Wesley, describes how people serving in different geographical centres are 'connected' to each other. Personal oversight of the Methodist Church is exercised by the President of the Conference, a presbyter elected to serve for a year by the Methodist Conference; such oversight is shared with the Vice-President, who is always a deacon or layperson. Each District is headed by a 'Chair', a presbyter who oversees the district. Although the district is similar in size to a diocese, and Chairs meet regularly with their partner bishops, the Methodist superintendent is closer to the bishop in function than is the Chair. The purpose of the district is to resource the circuits; it has no function otherwise.

Churches that have neither bishops nor dioceses

Many churches worldwide have neither bishops nor dioceses. Most of these churches are descended from the Protestant Reformation and more specifically the Swiss Reformation led by John Calvin. Presbyterianism, Presbyterian churches derive their name from the Presbyterian polity, presbyterian form of church government, which is governed by representative assemblies of elders. The Church of Scotland is governed solely through Presbyterian polity#Presbytery, presbyteries, at parish and regional level, and therefore has no dioceses or bishops. Congregational churches practice Congregational polity, congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs. Churches of Christ, being strictly non-denominational, are governed solely at the congregational level. Most Baptists hold that no church or ecclesiastical organization has inherent authority over a Baptist church. Churches can properly relate to each other under this polity only through voluntary cooperation, never by any sort of coercion. Furthermore, this Baptist polity calls for freedom from governmental control. Most Baptists believe in "Two offices of the church"—pastor-elder and deacon—based on certain scriptures (; ). Exceptions to this local form of local governance include a few churches that submit to the leadership of a body of Elder (Christianity)#Baptists, elders, as well as the Episcopal Baptists that have an Episcopal polity, Episcopal system. Continental Reformed churches are ruled by assemblies of "elders" or ordained officers. This is usually called Synodal government by the continental Reformed, but is essentially the same as presbyterian polity.

See also

* * Global organisation of the Catholic Church, Global organization of the Catholic Church * Lists of patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops * ''Notitia Dignitatum'' * Particular church * Personal ordinariate * Methodist Church Ghana



Sources and external links

Complete list of Catholic dioceses worldwide

Virtually complete list of current and historical Catholic dioceses worldwide

Indian Orthodox Church Diocese Portal

Ligação externa Diocese de Santo Anselmo - Brasil
{{Authority control Episcopacy in Anglicanism Episcopacy in the Catholic Church Dioceses, Christian terminology